Wednesday, March 30, 2022

Party like it's 2021

Some blog housekeeping is in order. It may not be pretty. That is all.

Pathfinders: You are now in Capitalist Economic Time (2022)

The Pathfinders Column from the March 2022 issue of the Socialist Standard

On 27 March the clocks once again go forward an hour, in line with the seasonal ‘spring forward, fall back’ daylight-saving scheme.

But possibly not for much longer. What with Brexit, the pandemic, and Russia and the West playing Dr Strangelove, you may have missed the fact that the European Parliament voted to scrap daylight-saving back in 2019, though recent events have conspired to delay the changeover.

Why are they scrapping it? Because it doesn’t make sense anymore. It was first introduced as a war measure in Germany in 1916, to save energy on lighting. Britain quickly followed suit, and many other countries soon afterwards. With modern lighting systems and more efficient energy sources, this reasoning no longer holds up. Many areas of the world, like Africa, east Asia, and most of South America, don’t bother with it at all. And there are other concerns. The RAC says that the rate of road accidents increases by 19 percent in the two weeks after clocks-back in October (, while a 2012 study found a 10 percent increase in heart attack risk after clocks-forward in March ( But retail businesses like it, as they think it makes people stay out later in the winter so it makes them more profits.

Nothing about time makes much sense. It’s hard for computers to work with, because we use minutes and seconds in base 60, and hours in base 24, as inherited from the ancient Babylonians who divided both the year and the circle by the same number, 360. The enterprising French revolutionaries in the 1790s created a decimal metric system for weights, measures and even time. The metric system stuck, but decimal time didn’t. It’s not hard though. China used a decimal time system for over a thousand years before adopting western time in 1645 (

UK Prime Minister, party animal and patriot Boris Johnson of course announced that Brexit Britain might refuse to fall into line with Europe if they scrap daylight-saving. But this would put Northern Ireland and Eire in different time zones, no small inconvenience to regular cross-border traffic. People already have to change their watches when crossing from Spain into Portugal, because Spain and indeed France are in the wrong time zone. How come? Because of a weird temporal anomaly known as capitalist politics.

When you look at a world atlas, you see perfectly straight lines of longitude and latitude. Political entities and physical properties have no bearing on these lines. You might imagine that time too would be immune from such considerations, starting at GMT±0 (aka UTC or ‘Zulu time’) and proceeding east in hourly increments to the dateline and then in decrements back to zero. You probably picture these zones as being like wide vertical stripes extending from pole to pole, which you only cross when travelling East-West or West-East. But if so, you’d be spectacularly wrong.

Time zones are only regular stripes over international waters. Over land, the clocks melt like a Dalí painting, the zones warping and twisting and contorting as if by some powerful magnetic force, flowing along coastlines, extruding far into neighbouring zones, and even jumping to entirely unrelated zones in little isolated splashes.

If you were to travel due south in a straight line from northern Norway (GMT+1), you would have to set your watch forward an hour to enter Finland (GMT+2). Then an hour again to enter Belarus (GMT+3). Then an hour back for Ukraine and the Black Sea (+2 – although if Russia were to invade as some believe, Ukraine would likely be switched to Russian/Belarus time +3). Still going due south, forward an hour for Turkey (+3) but back again for the Med and North Africa (+2), then forward for Ethiopia down to Tanzania (+3) and finally back again for Malawi and Mozambique (+2). That’s a North-South longitudinal line involving three time zones and seven clock changes.

This haphazard zone-bending or jumping is apparent almost everywhere you look on a world map ( The time zone numbers are not always whole integers either. Iran sits at GMT+3 ½, Nepal at GMT+5 ¾. A more awkward and convoluted system could scarcely be imagined, and all to satisfy precious nationalistic sensibilities.

The popular (and free) astronomy app Stellarium has a User Guide which takes a refreshingly high-minded stargazer’s view of all this: ‘The world is split into political entities called countries. Humans have an unappealing tendency of fighting over the question to which country some territories should be counted. In consequence to much unnecessary and unfriendly discussion we decided to completely drop the petty-minded assignment of political country names to locations in favour of geographical regions. There is only one known habitable planet, one humankind, and one sky. Stellarium users should overcome borders!’ It seems that astronomers and socialists are on the same page. Maybe there’s something about staring at distant galaxies that puts this world into its proper perspective.

There’s nothing sacred about time zones. They were only introduced in the 19th century to synchronise railway timetables. Theoretically, in socialism, we could abolish them and adopt a Single Common Time. Assuming GMT as the baseline, Australians would simply have to get used to having elevenses at 23.00 hours, just like they have Christmas beach barbeques in summer. But there would be no obvious advantage in doing this, any more than having 100-minute hours or ten months to a year.

Assuming therefore that we retained time zones, we could theoretically make them as straight and regular as a global zebra crossing. But this would be impractical and even downright silly. Can you imagine having to reset your watch when you cross the road to visit a neighbour, because your street happens to cross a notional time zone? No, you’d simply redraw the time line around your town to save such bother, and probably around neighbouring towns and cities too. What would be a reasonable distance to travel before having to reset your watch? In short, how far would you bend time?

That depends on geography. We often say there would be no borders in socialism, aside from natural barriers like rivers and mountain ranges and oceans, because there would be no states and no ‘countries’ as such. But it’s not entirely true. There would indeed be borders, based on time, invisible and yet real in the sense that you’d have dislocate your day to pass them, with what cultural ramifications we can’t predict, though of course there’d be no fences, guards or customs. Where exactly we might draw these borders would be a matter of debate, but at least it would be a practical and democratic debate, and a relaxed one at that, not one tainted by any squalid nationalistic, political or colonial interests.
Paddy Shannon

Hunter-gatherers: Who are they? What do they tell us? (2022)

From the March 2022 issue of the Socialist Standard

Since the time of Europe’s first extensive contact with indigenous peoples in the sixteenth century, the lives of hunter-gatherers have exercised a fascination over our mind. Who are these people? How do they live? What do they tell us about human society? Anthropologists dispute over how exactly we should define them. Beyond the fact that they live exclusively by hunting and gathering their societies are very various. Some, like the forest dwelling Mbuti of sub-Saharan Africa are nomadic, others, such as the South American Canela, live in settled communities. Several alternate between a nomadic and a settled lifestyle from season to season. Some hunter-gatherers are socially stratified, like the indigenous communities of the Pacific North-West of America who have a class of ‘nobles’ and a class of slaves. Others, like Australian aboriginal groups are dominated by elders who control young men by limiting their access to women. Others still, like the Nuer of the Sudan, have egalitarian relationships, but only between men. Hunter-gatherers have a multitude of different ways of organising themselves. The one thing we can say with any clarity is what they are not. They are not farmers. They are not tribal peoples who live partly by farming and have complicated clan structures. They are not urban dwellers and they do not live under the rule of complex states. They do not live like us.

Who are they?
Since the mid-1960s, however, a lot of attention has been focused on one particular type of hunter-gatherer, characterised by the anthropologist James Woodburn in a 1982 paper titled ‘Egalitarianism’ as ‘immediate return’ ( ‘Immediate-return ’ societies are those which do not store or preserve food or other items, but consume what they produce more or less immediately. Only a small number of hunter-gatherer groups following this type of economy still survive. The most well-known examples are the Hadza in Tanzania, groups such as the Mbenjele, and Mbuti in the forests of sub-Saharan Africa, the Ju/’hoansi and !Kung and related groups in Namibia, the Hill Pandaram and Paliyan of southern India, and the Batek of Malaysia. What particularly intrigued Woodburn about all these groups is that, scattered as they were over three continents, they share the same type of social organisation. They are all intensely egalitarian. They live without private property. They have no chiefs, no elders, no shamans, no authority figures of any kind. Each individual is autonomous: no one can tell anyone else what to do. They are not territorial. And though their societies occasionally exhibit low levels of interpersonal violence, they do not make war on their neighbours. And contrary to the practice in patriarchal societies, women live close to their mothers, where they have support at least during their early years of childbirth and child rearing, while their male partners live with them.

Egalitarianism is often a poorly defined term. An egalitarian society is one in which people are equal, but equal in what way? It is a term that can mean many different things, and if you make people equal in one sense, you will often make them unequal in another. If you give a couple with one child and a couple with four children equal salaries, you make them unequal in their ability to provide for their dependents. Historically, the term ‘egalitarian’ has been used rather loosely by anthropologists, to describe societies that show egalitarian features in some aspects of their organisation, but not necessarily in others. The Nuer, mentioned above, were once described as egalitarian for maintaining equal relations among men, but distinctly unequal relations between men and women. It was a sign of the times. More recently, however, the term has only come to be used to describe societies that are egalitarian in more fundamental ways. When speaking of hunter-gatherers, it is used principally to mean two things, political equality and equality between the sexes. Political equality refers to equality of decision-making power. All immediate-return hunter-gatherers exhibit both these types of egalitarianism as well as a number of other features necessary to sustain them. These are principally an absence of authority figures, an equal access to goods and services and an absence of any kind of discrimination. All these societies, in other words, demonstrate a high degree of personal freedom.

Egalitarian, immediate-return hunter-gatherer societies are of particular interest to anthropologists, since it is believed that this was the form of organisation found among early humans. Even though evidence is growing that other forms of hunter-gatherer societies also existed (principally between 40,000 and 12,000 years ago), their numbers are still relatively small and the consensus remains that immediate-return societies predominated. Immediate-return hunter-gatherers are also of interest to socialists since they demonstrate a number of features about our human capacity to live and produce together socially as equals with a minimum of physical conflict.

We are surrounded with ideologies of capitalism which urge us to believe that humans are naturally competitive, aggressive and even warlike, and that capitalist society which promotes these qualities, is therefore well fitted to our nature. Given our prevailing mood of pessimism and the daily experience of living in a competitive capitalist society, it’s not surprising that this story appeals to many. But is it true? It seems not. The mere existence of immediate-return hunter-gatherers gives the lie to this story. If it were the case that we possessed some abstract ‘human nature’ that compelled us all to behave competitively, then immediate-return hunter-gatherers would never have existed, let alone survived sustainably for tens of thousands of years. And if the evidence holds and it turns out that this is the way we organised our societies during the 250,000 years in which we were establishing ourselves as a separate species, then it might surely be said to be the kind of society to which we are best fitted.

What do they tell us?
We must be careful, though. One of the things immediate-return hunter-gatherers can’t do is provide us with a blueprint of how to live in a socialist society. Even if we desired to live a hunter-gatherer lifestyle, it should be obvious that a pattern of life only sustained by the availability of large tracts of land could not support our current levels of population. To survive, we need some degree of large-scale mechanisation and social production requiring significant organisation and coordination. A future socialist society would look very different from an immediate-return hunter-gatherer one. As it happens, though, we now have a good understanding of the principles by which immediate-return hunter-gatherers maintain their egalitarianism and individual autonomy, and we can see how these are highly compatible with a society of common ownership and free association.

The first and most obvious of these principles is that individual freedom and equality is founded on the absence of private property relations. When everything is shared and every individual has free and direct access to the necessities of life, then no one has the power to stand between anyone else and the satisfaction of their needs. Common ownership, like hunter-gatherer sharing relationships, does not eliminate conflict but it severely reduces it down to the level of the individual or to small groups and prevents it becoming socially disruptive. Just as important for the maintenance of egalitarian relations and personal freedom in hunter-gatherer society is the ability of an individual or family to move away from any conflict situation or any individual who tries to coerce them. In capitalism our mobility as workers is limited. Moving away to another area means quitting a job, selling a house or giving up a tenancy, and finding another one. Within capitalism’s property system, that alone can be an insecure and worrying process, not to say one burdened with a lot of legal paperwork, financial rigmarole and practical hassle. Moving can also mean tearing oneself away from our support networks. In the non-private property environment of a socialist society, however, such restrictions are almost completely eliminated. Even the support we need for ourselves and our families is no longer dependent on particular people but is built into the fabric of a society based on free access and the satisfaction of individual need.

Immediate-return hunter-gatherers can also provide us with useful counter-evidence to many of the claims of capitalist economics. They show, for instance; that market relations are not universal and that human beings have no inescapable urge to ‘truck, barter and exchange’. They show that there is no obvious and necessary division between productive activity and social life, or that what a person receives from society must inevitably be tied to her individual work contribution. They show that acquisitiveness and selfishness are not essential features of human behaviour, that external pressures are not required to incentivise individuals to work, and that inequality and class divisions are not indispensable features of human society. They show too, that the inevitability of scarcity together with all that implies in society is a myth. Most systems of capitalist economics hold that scarcity arises because human beings have unlimited wants and limited means to satisfy them. In reality, however, we are producers as well as consumers of the goods we need to live. This gives us potentially a choice. We can work more and consume more, or we can work less and consume less.

Put in this simple, abstract way such decisions seem straightforward. Yet in a capitalist economy nothing is so simple. Our choices are blocked and distorted by the fact that in between the acts of production and consumption stands the profit motive which drives them both by its own relentless logic. It drives production by the continuous need for capitalists to maximise profit in a competitive environment; it drives consumption by the constant pressure on capitalists to market products, create wants and maximise sales. In the process, profit eliminates choice. Immediate-return hunter-gatherer societies face no such issues. They live at low levels of subsistence and their members require little to lead happy and fulfilling lives, yet even so they often choose to restrict their production in order to maximise their time spent on socialising and other activities. We have the same choice in a socialist society. What immediate-return hunter-gatherer societies demonstrate most clearly is that many of the assumptions made by capitalist economists are no more than a mirage cast by capitalism itself upon us and our relationships.

Inequality Kills (2022)

From the March 2022 issue of the Socialist Standard

January 2022 saw the release of Oxfam’s report, provocatively entitled Inequality Kills. Produced to ‘inform public debate on development and humanitarian policy issues’, the report focused on three broad areas: 1) The unprecedented rise in billionaire wealth during Covid-19, 2) Economic Violence (the impact of inequalities in health, gender-based violence, climate change and hunger) and 3) Solutions (importance of social movements, and policies around pre-distribution and re-distribution).

Although likely using inflammatory language for dramatic effect, Inequality Kills is comprehensive and includes multiple, detailed and scientifically researched sources of information. Sixty pages and 321 footnotes are accompanied by a summary and a note on methodology describing how the organisation came to their conclusions and how they decided upon what to highlight and what questions should be asked.

Their message is that we are making an unequal world even more unequal and that the pandemic has pushed us into a yet more grave position regarding environmental damage, a decrease in women’s rights, an increase in gender inequalities and more barriers for ‘racialised groups’.

The forewords feature comment from Jayati Ghosh, a development economist and Professor of Economics at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, USA, but possibly more strikingly, Abigail Disney, a member of the multinational entertainment and media conglomerate family, who is described as a documentary filmmaker [and] activist and lets us know that ‘The answer to these complicated problems is ironically simple: taxes’ and ‘There is more than enough money to solve most of the world’s problems. It’s just being held in the hands of millionaires and billionaires who aren’t paying their fair share.’

As mentioned in the report, Abigail Disney is a member of the ‘Patriotic Millionaires’, an organisation that ‘focus[ses] on three “first” principles: a highly progressive tax system, a liveable minimum wage, and equal political representation for all citizens’ (p 5). Do Oxfam consider that both this organisation and the idea of philanthropy are useful to their position?

In Inequality Kills, a number of statistics are shown in bold, eye-catching infographics, such as the below.

The authors take a stab at the contemporary issue of the single person or business space-race and Jeff Bezos and his somewhat phallic rocket in particular, in a section entitled ‘The Billionaire Variant’ linking the pandemic to the rise in wealth of the richest on the planet.

‘In July 2021, the world’s richest man launched himself and his friends into space in his luxury rocket while millions were dying needlessly below him because they could not access vaccines or afford food. Jeff Bezos’ own iconic Marie Antoinette “let them eat cake” moment will forever be more accurately quoted: “I want to thank every Amazon employee and customer because you guys paid for all of this.” The increase in Bezos’ fortune alone during the pandemic could pay for everyone on earth to be safely vaccinated’ (pp 9-10).

There is scant mention, however, of how or why this situation came to be. How was it possible for a commercial trader, reminiscent of nineteenth century Britain, to increase his wealth in this way? What is the root cause of the problem? Does it take much discussion after reading the report or do we already know the answer? If we know the answer, what are the friends and associates of the wealthy capitalists going to do about it? By design, there are more questions than answers, but how helpful is this methodology?

The report is around 15,000 words long and the word ‘capitalism’ only appears twice, with one of these referring to ‘shareholder capitalism’; the other appearing in a section entitled ‘Economic Violence’:
‘That people in poverty, women and girls, and racialized groups are so often disproportionately killed or harmed, more than those who are rich and privileged, is not an accidental error in today’s dominant form of capitalism, but a core part of it’ (p.12).
The report does not explain what today’s dominant form of capitalism is, so how are we to discuss how to improve or solve it?

A cursory search of various social media platforms show that the report is only mentioned by groups linked to Oxfam itself, with a focus on the amount of billionaires compared to poorer people from an Indian perspective, and by ‘green’ groups and relatively small-reach left-leaning individuals and ‘think tanks’. Features can be found in The Morning Star and Socialist Worker.

It now does not take much searching to find that even the ‘centre-left’ of mainstream politics has woken up to the idea that capitalism is in itself and is the instigator of, damage by design. Foreign Affairs Magazine, published by the US Council on Foreign Relations, was founded essentially as a ‘sister’ of Chatham House in Britain and has close links to the Democratic Party. They state that their ‘goal is to start a conversation about the need for Americans to better understand the world’. Their 2013 article, Capitalism and Inequality, What the Right and the Left Get Wrong describes the problem at hand: ‘Inequality is an inevitable product of capitalist activity, and expanding equality of opportunity only increases it.’

The authors would also have done well to closely read Bambra, Lynch and Smith’s The Unequal Pandemic, published in January 2021, which describes how pandemic-based and other outstanding ‘inequalities are a political choice: with governments effectively choosing who lives and who dies.’ Oxfam’s report may not be able to change this ever-pervasive fact, even if it was their original aim.

So who is the report for really? Are the people that need to discuss the issues raised, going to act on them? Perhaps the most pertinent quote in the report comes from Greta Thunberg, made at the latest pre-COP26 Youth Summit:
‘The climate crisis is of course only a symptom of a much larger crisis. A crisis based on the idea that some people are worth more than others (…]) It is very naïve to believe that we can solve this crisis without confronting the roots of it’ (p.34).

SPGB Summer School: The Class Divide (2022)

Party News from the March 2022 issue of the Socialist Standard

The richest 10% of people own more than 80% of global wealth, and the 10 richest men have six times more wealth than that of the poorest 3.1 billion people combined.

These vast inequalities in wealth reflect how society is split into two classes: the capitalist class who get their wealth through owning industries and corporations, and the working class who rely on wages or benefits to buy what is needed.

The Socialist Party’s weekend of talks and discussion looks at why capitalism is divided into classes and how the antagonism between them impacts on the way we live. What is ‘class consciousness’ and how does it develop? To what extent is it meaningful to say that there is a middle class? What classes were there before capitalism, in previous stages of history? And what could a future classless society be like?

Full residential cost (including accommodation and meals Friday evening to Sunday afternoon) is £100; the concessionary rate is £50. Book here or send a cheque (payable to the Socialist Party of Great Britain) with your contact details to Summer School, The Socialist Party, 52 Clapham High Street, London, SW4 7UN. Day visitors are welcome, but please book by e-mail in advance.

E-mail enquiries to

What’s in a word? (2022)

From the March 2022 issue of the Socialist Standard

The word ‘socialism’ peppers current political discussion. When Boris Johnson was seeking respite from his well-known recent setbacks by announcing a limit to rises in people’s energy bills, a Tory MP got up in the parliament to say that the Conservative Party should not be supporting socialist policies. In the United States, right-wing opponents of Joe Biden never cease to refer to his policies as ‘socialism’. And when we hear reference to what happened over much of the 20th century in Russia and Eastern Europe and still very much happens in countries like Cuba and China, the word ‘socialism’ is often used as a quick and convenient way to describe it, whether coming from detractors or supporters. Clearly, when people use the word in these different cases to characterise a form of government or government policy, they do not all have the same idea in their mind. But what unites all these uses is the idea that the state is taking charge of economic matters and attempting to control what would otherwise be determined by market forces.

Giant Ponzi scam
It’s also a word that pops up almost as a matter of course when people are trying to describe not just state control of an economy but also state dictatorship over people’s everyday lives. This has happened recently, for example, in two quite separate BBC Radio 4 programmes on Albania. A documentary entitled The Great Pyramids of Albania looked back to 1996 when a large proportion of the Albanian population fell victim to a giant ‘Ponzi’ scheme. People sold their houses, land and livestock to buy into pyramid schemes that were doomed to fail. By the end of that year, what was basically a rob-Peter-to-pay-Paul scheme had swallowed up almost 50 per cent of the country’s annual income and affected the lives of most of its population. The programme’s presenter tried to explain the psychology which hooked people into trusting this scheme, how the mass delusion evolved and then what were its dire consequences (a violent civil war in fact) once it became clear that no one was getting their money back and some had lost everything. But he did not do this without referring on a number of occasions to what had preceded this in the period from the end of the second world war to 1991 as ‘socialism’ and its end as ‘the fall of socialism’. During most of that time, what had happened was that Albania had been ruled in a direly oppressive way by a ruthless Stalin-style dictator, Enver Hoxha, who succeeded in establishing personal control not only over the economy but also over the country’s political system.

The Hoxha dictatorship
And it was the Hoxha period of Albanian history that the second recent BBC programme on that country focused on, via a recently published memoir entitled Coming of Age at the End of History, written by a woman who had lived through it. In it the author, Lea Ypi, describes how people were conditioned to believe that the one-party rule they were living under was ‘freedom and democracy’, and that this was what ‘socialism’ was. She describes reinforcing mechanisms such as the loyalty to Hoxha and the Party sworn by pupils in school every morning. But prying ears were everywhere and any hint of non-adherence to the system could lead to dire consequences ranging from dismissal from work, to ‘re-education’, to prison or to execution, and such things happened frequently. The title of the Albanian song accompanying the programme, A Pickaxe in One Hand, a Rifle in the Other, used as a signature tune by Albanian state radio, captures well the tenor of a regime characterised in the author’s memoir as ‘an open-air prison’. Once she had finished her schooldays, Ypi tells how she left Albania, studied philosophy and politics and ended up as what she is today, a Professor of Political Theory at the London School of Economics. Yet her memoir suggests that she is teaching her students that what happened under Hoxha was socialism, even though one might think that, with her knowledge of political theory, she would know that to label what happened in Albania in that way is an outright perversion of the word’s original meaning.

Was Albania socialist?
Of course, no one has a patent on words, especially those describing ideas rather than concrete objects. Yet, when the word ‘socialism’ was popularised in the 19th century by such writers as Marx and Engels, it clearly meant an entirely different society from the one that existed then and still exists now based on buying and selling and private or state ownership of the means of living. It meant a society of free access to all goods and services based on the concept of from each according to ability to each according to need and presupposed the abolition of the wages system. Yet the dictatorial regimes, run along state-capitalist lines, that later called themselves socialist (and/or Marxist) were the polar opposite of anything Marx and Engels would have recognised as the society of ‘freedom from necessity’ which they described as ‘socialism’ or ‘communism’ (they used the terms more or less synonymously). While we must recognise that many people do not want to see the kind of society advocated by Marx and Engels but instead prefer one of the many slightly different varieties of capitalism that exist at present (‘free market’ capitalism, state capitalism, ‘mixed’ economy, etc), it does not seem unreasonable to expect them, if only to achieve some kind of clarity of thought for themselves, not to throw the word ‘socialism’ around willy-nilly. If the title of ‘socialism’ is given to any of these varieties, it betrays a lack of understanding of the concept historically and can only serve to mislead those looking for genuine solutions to the many-faceted problems perpetually thrown up by the capitalist organisation of society.
Howard Moss

Bird’s Eye View: Religion – Thy Name Is Superstition (2022)

The Bird’s Eye View Column from the March 2022 issue of the Socialist Standard 

Religion – Thy Name Is Superstition

‘A Pakistani court has sentenced a Muslim woman to death for committing “blasphemy” by sharing images deemed to be insulting to Islam’s Prophet Muhammad and one of his wives, also considered a holy personage by many Muslims. The trial court in the northern Pakistani city of Rawalpindi on Wednesday sentenced Aneeqa Ateeq under the country’s strict blasphemy laws, which impose a mandatory death penalty for insulting the Prophet Muhammad’ (, 20 December).

Pakistan is one of thirteen countries, all of a Muslim majority, where blasphemy is punishable by death. The past lies like a nightmare upon the present: ‘Two years after Michelle, 15, was kidnapped, sold, forced to convert to Islam and married to a stranger, relatives still ostracise her. “My aunts and uncles have left us, and my two older brothers, till a few months ago, were not even talking to me,” said Michelle, talking to IPS over the phone from Faisalabad, in the Punjab province of Pakistan. They believe she has brought dishonour to them. Her captors and even the cleric who officiated the marriage are free despite committing multiple offences, including abduction, trafficking and rape. “There are several laws that can be invoked for tackling offences, such as kidnapping and abductions,” lamented Peter Jacob, executive director of the Center for Social Justice (CSJ), a research and advocacy organisation. “But the prosecution has failed to do so”’ (, 19 January). According to one Dr. S. Faizi: ‘It is important that Muslims reclaim the Quran, discarding the distorting interpretations by patriarchal men’ (, 18 January). The humanist and feminist author, 59-year-old Taslima Nasrin, who was born in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh, from where she is banished, her books banned and bounty placed on her head) would likely disagree, having stated: ‘The Quran can no longer serve as the basis of our law. A thousand years ago it may have been useful for fending off barbarism. But we live in modern times, the era of science and technology. The Quran has become superfluous. It stands in the way of progress and the way of women’s emancipation’ (Index, September/October 1994).

Bad science

Believe it or not, religion was humans’ first attempt at science. We could not explain the forces of nature, the rising and setting of the Sun, phases of the moon, etc., and ascribed them to the supernatural. Viewed through the lens of the materialist conception of history, it can be seen as a necessary adjunct to our development. Yet religion has long served the interests of the minority master class. Science too. Science itself has become bourgeois and is dependent upon capitalism for its operation and expansion. In 1850s America a Dr Cartwright identified a condition, drapetomania, that caused black slaves to flee plantations. Russian psychiatrists famously aided Stalin by diagnosing dissidents as insane. Contemporary examples include the sociobiology of E.O. Wilson and Steven Pinker’s evolutionary psychology. An article titled ‘Capitalists Only “Trust the Science” When It Suits Their Agenda’ (leftvoice, 21 January) explores this theme further.
’Even when ‘good’ research is done, the products of that research still exist in a social milieu: not all research or results see the light of day in publication and distribution. That information must still navigate a web of entities with vested interests in the ‘outcomes’ of science. Often, when a study uncovers information that certain entities (the funding agency, the university, the government, corporations in a particular industry) don’t like, they bury or discredit the study. For example, Katherine M. Flegal has been the victim of a 15-year-long campaign to discredit her research demonstrating that being “overweight” is not actually a risk factor for health. Some resistance to her work comes from the weight loss and health insurance industries, but some of it also comes from another classic abuser of “science”: Big Tobacco. When analyzing the data from another study, Flegal found that some of the perceived risks of obesity were actually due to smoking, which had not been accounted for in the original study’.
Reflecting last year on how her 2005 and 2013 papers were received, Dr. Flegal concluded: ‘Scientific findings should be evaluated on their merits, not on the basis of whether they fit a desired narrative’. Indeed.

Good science

‘In an admirable, longstanding tradition, heedful Americans are taking multiple, pragmatic, science-based precautions against a virus that […] has killed 900,000 people, […] and is still infecting almost 700,000 people a day. LOL. Just kidding. In moronic fact, […] crackpots still roam the land, spewing their crazy. […] Add to their ranks […] Christopher Key, who as bonkers head of the Vaccine Police […] now advocates […] drinking urine to ward off COVID. He cites […] “antidotal” evidence, to support urine therapy; he himself has been drinking his own urine for 23 years, evidently proving, “God’s given us everything we need,” except perhaps a working brain’ (, 12 January).

When you doubt ‘our’ leaders or science alone can save us, and begin to question the ‘alternative facts,’ distortions, lies and misinformation of mainstream media, conspiracy cranks and fundamentalist fakirs, consider instead scientific socialism which provides an analysis of the capitalist system that explains how wealth comes to be produced and distributed and who gets what from the pool of social production. It is able to place this in an historical context showing the development of its productive relationships from past systems. It is also able to define the economic limitations of political action within the system and reliably predict the results of various political policies. Another world is possible, one where scientific progress comes hand in hand with societal progress, which is in turn driven by personal betterment of every member of that society. Let’s make it so.

Confusion compounded (2022)

Book Review from the March 2022 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Pound and the Fury. Why Anger and Confusion Reign in an Economy Paralysed by Myth. By Jack Mosse. 168 pages. Manchester University Press, 2021.

To explain why ‘for decades, our economy has failed to work for ordinary citizens’, Mosse had the idea of asking various groups of people what they thought the ‘economy’ was and how they thought it worked. He interviewed people on a nearby estate, people working in asset management, civil service economists, and journalists on a magazine advising small investors. It worked and makes interesting reading. Those in the estate thought that the economy is a conspiracy of the rich and powerful to keep them poor; the asset managers and civil servants saw it as ‘an autonomous natural entity’; the financial journalists came across as simple conmen.

The trouble is that Mosse himself is confused about economics, as revealed by his comments on the answers and in his final chapter on ‘Demythologising the economy’. Early on (p.27) he states his belief that ‘money can be magicked up out of thin air’ by banks. In fact, some of those he interviewed had a more accurate understanding than he does.

He criticises the asset managers and the civil servants for ‘reifying’ the economy ‘as an entity operating according to its own autonomous logic‘ with the result that ’human actors are understood as merely complying with the irresistible base force that drives the economy’ (p. 60-1).

Actually, that is not a bad description of how the capitalist economy does operate. Human actors (capitalists, workers, governments) do have to submit to the logic of the system in the end. The asset managers and civil servants misunderstand the system as an expression of human nature. Mosse calls seeing the economy as an autonomous natural force ‘reifying’. The word Marx used was ‘fetishism’ – humans attributing autonomous power to and being dominated by something that ultimately they create. Humans could cease to be dominated by the outcome of their activity if they changed that activity from producing wealth for sale on a market with a view to profit to producing directly to satisfy people’s needs. This is possible only on the basis of the common ownership and democratic control of productive resources; with this, the ‘economy’ would then cease to operate and humans would be in control of what they produce.

Mosse’s alternative proposal is just to tinker with the banking system while leaving the rest of capitalism unchanged. He attributes to private banks a power which they do not possess. When he says that ‘governments, as well as private banks, create money out of nowhere’, he is only half right. The government, normally via its central bank, can create money, or at least money-tokens, at will (but this will have consequences). Banks cannot. They can only lend what they have themselves borrowed; they don’t create new money, they only redistribute money that already exists. The myth that they can create money out of thin air arises because modern economics has come to define making a bank loan as ‘creating’ money. Banks do make loans of course but not out of thin air.

Having two different definitions of money creation only causes confusion of which Mosse is a victim. He needs to explain, if banks can ‘magic money out of thin air’, how come that during the crash of 2008 they had to be bailed out by the government? Why did they not use their supposed ability to create money to bail themselves out?

He gets himself into another contradiction when discussing one of the reforms proposed by Positive Money – ‘to ban private credit creation’ (p. 137). This turns out not to be stopping banks lending altogether (as it ought logically to mean if banks create money whenever they make a loan), but to allow them to re-lend only money deposited with them. This would mean that they would no longer be able to use the money market to borrow money from other banks and financial institutions to re-lend. Mosse concedes that this ‘draconian policy’ would provoke ‘a huge immediate shock effect on all kinds of economic activity, which would dwarf any previous banking crisis’. Yes, it would.

Seeming to realise the impracticality of that particular money reform, he turns to another funny money theory, so-called ‘Modern Monetary Theory’. MMT is based on the fact that governments do have the power to create money-tokens out of nothing. It argues that all a government has to do is to decide what it wants to spend money on and then create the money; governments don’t really need either to tax or to borrow. Given certain unrealistic conditions a government could perhaps do this but the most likely outcome would be Zimbabwe-style roaring inflation.

It is a pity than Mosse has let himself be influenced by monetary reformers and so ends up propagating confused and confusing myths himself. Despite this, the chapters – four-fifths of the book – where he interviews people are worth reading as good reporting.
Adam Buick

Life and Times: The Beer Festival (2022)

The Life and Times column from the March 2022 issue of the Socialist Standard

One of the frequent objections to the possibility of socialism is that it proposes a moneyless society. After all, no one willingly works for free. This truism runs counter to examples of how, even under money-driven capitalism, a great deal of work is undertaken freely.

I am going to outline one example which centres on a community beer festival. Over the last weekend in November, 2021, such a festival ran in the village hall within the Metropolitan Borough of Barnsley. Running from mid-Friday afternoon through to late Sunday afternoon, it eventually raised, that is made a profit of, over £10,000.

The first thing that needs to be acknowledged here is that this is hardly an exemplar of socialism. The whole purpose of the festival was to raise money to fund local community projects, the motivation was blatantly profit.

How could it be otherwise? There was a time during the prominence of Arthur Scargill and the militancy of the NUM that the area around Barnsley was referred to in the media as the People’s Republic of South Yorkshire. More of a nod to Soviet-style state capitalism than anything to do with actual socialism.

Barnsley, just like anywhere else in the world, at present abides by the rules of capitalism. This means community events and projects require money. However, just as the seeds of capitalism were nurtured and gradually grew under the previous system, feudalism, so it is possible to identify a similar sowing of socialist notions under present capitalist conditions.

The thing to note is that apart from myself, none of those involved in organising and running the festival would identify as socialists. Rather the contrary, especially those who are local business men and women. This demonstrates that a willingness to give time and effort for free does not have to be motivated by ideology.

And there was a considerable amount of time and effort given by those involved, beginning with an organising group that began meeting in July. At this point those who were prepared to plan the event came to the fore. They met regularly and identified all the component parts of a festival and the arrangements that needed to be made to realise those plans.

Then the business people came in, the ones involved in the licensing trade and brewing whose direct commercial interests ran counter to the festival in that the local pubs would lose custom over that weekend. Nonetheless, on top of running their own businesses, they worked hard to source and arrange the supply of beers from a wide range of breweries, not just their own.

Other local business people sponsored the barrels, and this at a time when Covid lockdowns had affected them over a long period. Admittedly, as sponsors there was an advertising aspect, but I suspect this brought more local kudos than actual profit.

The event itself was run entirely by volunteers. From those who the day before set up the bars, primed the pumps and cleaned the lines, decorated the hall, arranged the furniture and so on, to those who pulled the pints and generally ran the event and then dismantled it all and cleared it away on the Monday.

On Friday evening the local primary schools came along with teachers and parents to sing carols around the Christmas tree, then on the Saturday, local singers and musicians performed for free.

To reiterate, I am not claiming this as an example of socialism in action. Patently, money remained the driving force behind it all and commercial profits were made by the breweries whose beer was sold.

Yet all of the work required for the festival to take place was given freely, and in a commercial context. How much more likely is it that people will be willing to contribute their labour in a society without commercial pressures, especially for the common good?

It is surely clear that the motivation was the wellbeing of the community, the common good and this elicited a great deal of local support from the wider community. If this is possible under capitalism in straitened times then there are clear grounds for positing a society where this is the norm.

Also, the wide range of people freely giving what they could of their time and energy is a practical demonstration that ’from each according to their ability’ is not just a theoretical aspiration. And even while those people would not necessarily identify as socialists, indeed they probably represent the main political parties in their voting habits, they willingly acted in practical ways that surely encourage the presently small number of socialists.

This is but one of many examples throughout society of people working for free for the common good. There’s a long way to go to realise socialism as a worldwide system, but this was one small step, be it, in the circumstances, an unsteady one.
Dave Alton

What Marx Really Meant (1983)

Party News from the March 1983 issue of the Socialist Standard

Marxisms for all (1983)

From the March 1983 issue of the Socialist Standard

We are all Marxists now — if the badges are anything to go by. A Marxist is a radical thing to be, and it’s such less bother than becoming a vegetarian or getting yourself Born Again. Yes, the fashion for Marxism has a big future — as long as it doesn't get out of hand.

The attraction is that there are just so many Marxisms to choose from. When you get tired of one you can attach yourself to another. There’s Russian Marxism: you can bore your fellow workers at union meetings with how rents in Leningrad haven’t gone up for forty years — and the need for “anti-Soviet wreckers” to be sent for a long holiday in People’s Siberia (a sort of Leninist Disneyland). Then there's Chinese Marxism: if you take that option you get your script supplied in a Little Red Book: “He who does not work his sweet and sour balls off for the State is a counter-revolutionary tapeworm". Plenty of clichés are provided with Chinese Marxism, but the grey and grey uniform can be a trifle offputting. Let us not forget Albanian Marxism. All Albanian Marxists will insist on telling you (whether you want to hear or not) that there is no inflation in Albania. As a matter of fact there's not much money in Albania either. Of course, there's Polish Marxism: the latest joke in Gdansk is that "A spectre is haunting Leninism — the spectre of trade union consciousness" (subtle, but subversive). A bit of the old African Marxism is always worth consulting if you want to see the Old Man’s words distorted; a good example is Mugabe’s “National Socialism'”— a free copy of The Marxist Misprint to the first person who tells us where that little phrase was used before.

For those who don’t fancy Marxism there are plenty of other "isms" to print on your chest. There’s Leninism — the game for people who like the sound of Marxist slogans, but detest their meanings. Trotskyism is for ideologists, who’ve been everywhere and want to spend the rest of their days infiltrating Labour Party sleeping clubs. (No wonder they call them "bedsit socialists".) There’s feminism for men who feel sorry for women, anarchism for individuals who feel sorry for themselves and masochism for Labourites who have high hopes and always end up feeling sorry.

There are some who say that Marxism is more than a badge. More than a chant. More than a tone of voice even. What more do they expect — ideas? Yes: Marxism is a way of thinking about the world. It is not a dogma to be repeated parrot-fashion by tired old secular monks or a slogan to be scrawled on a wall by a rebel who runs away. To be a Marxist is to understand the world you live in. And to change it. The educators need to be educated — the uneducated need to discover the power within them. The world can be ours — those who pose as revolutionaries are in our way.
Steve Coleman

The birth of Nazism (1983)

From the March 1983 issue of the Socialist Standard

Fifty years ago. Hitler and the Nazis came to power in Germany with the support of more than ten million workers. The horrors of the following twelve years will never be forgotten. Many thousands across the world still bear the mental scars from their time in the concentration camps at Auschwitz, Dachau and elsewhere, or lost friends or relatives in the holocaust. The first camp was opened on 22 March, 1933, for the incarceration of officials of the Communist and Social Democratic Parties. The West German government is this year mounting a campaign to remind people of the perils of Nazism, but they are presenting it as an aberration, a terrible slip which could have been avoided if only people had been a little more careful. This is not a fair representation of the facts. There were fascist regimes in the thirties in Italy, Spain, Portugal, Yugoslavia, much of Latin America and elsewhere. If we are serious about wanting to avoid a repetition, we must be prepared to examine the way in which these governments evolved.

In Germany (as in Italy and elsewhere) the late nineteenth century had seen a vast increase in industrial productivity, but no corresponding modernisation of the political process. East of the Elbe, there still remained the old, aristocratic class of Junkers — Prussian imperial landowners — whose influence held back the advance of the more modern industrial capitalists based around the Rhine. In the second half of the nineteenth century the German population increased from thirty-five to sixty million. The rise of the social-democratic movement was met by the two-pronged approach of social welfare reform and Bismarck's repressive Anti-Socialist Laws. The First World War was pursued under the military dictatorship of Hindenburg and Ludendorffs Supreme Army Command, which was accepted by the five parties of the generally ineffectual Reichstag, or parliament. The failure of the Schlieffen plan in 1914 led to four years of persistent and devastating trench warfare. as German workers were slaughtered like cattle in the name of expanding German capitalist control of world markets.

By 1918, discontent with the war was rife. A million munitions workers went on strike. The old military regime collapsed against a background of destruction and decay. Demobilisation crises were turned into dole queues. A parliamentary constitution was drawn up at Weimar, but proved to be little more than an empty formality. Capitalism had reached one of its gravest crises yet in central Europe, and there was something of a political vacuum in Germany in the early twenties. Germany had long traditions of nationalism, racism and social darwinism among its shopkeepers, professionals and white-collar workers. There was also a class of relatively new industrial capitalists, in possession of huge, twentieth-century steel and coal combines, such as the Vereinigte Stahlwerke, formed in the 1920s. Krupp told his employees: “We want only loyal workers who are grateful from the bottom of their hearts for the bread which we let them earn” (G. Raphael. Krupp et Thyssen, 1925).

Long before the war, iron and steel workers owners had been giving large donations to the German Union to Fight Against Social Democracy. Thyssen said in a statement to the Journal des Débuts, 7 February 1924. "Democracy with us represents — nothing". There was, however, a conflict of interests within the capitalist class between heavy industry, represented for example by Stinnes and Thyssen. who opposed the terms of the Versailles Treaty which had been the basis of the Weimar Republic, and the lighter finished goods industry. or Fertigindustrie represented by Rathenau and the powerful AEG (General Electric Association). The latter sector was more inclined to try to mould a class “alliance" between workers and employers. through corporatism. They were more nationalist and protectionist.

Under the Dawes Plan of the twenties. American capital flowed into the industrial centre of Germany. The productive machinery was expanded and its capacity grew rapidly. Market demand lagged behind. and by the beginning of 1929 there were already more than two million unemployed. Since the bouts of depression in the late nineteenth century, and through the infamous hyper-inflation of the early nineteen-twenties, capital accumulation had been as disturbingly erratic in Germany as anywhere else in the world. The final crisis which led to the rise of Nazism was yet to come. In the 1928 elections less than a million people voted for the Nazis. Four years later, they polled almost fourteen million. The only comparable change which occurred in Germany over the same period. was the rise in unemployment, which by 1932 stood at six million. The formation of the Hitler government was announced on 30 January 1933, and the dictatorship was fully consolidated by the end of 1934. Hitler openly rode to power on the promise to solve the problem of unemployment by purging Germany of Jews, gipsies, trade-union militants, “traitors" and communists. and by expanding militarily to conquer world markets. He was offering capitalist solutions to the old capitalist problems of market demand, despite the Nazi claims to be revolutionary.

It was in 1930, just when the expansion sponsored by the Dawes Flan was reaching its peak and there was a greater reliance than ever on selling German industrial products to foreign buyers, that the world crisis came and the bottom fell out of international markets. The Vienna Credit-Anstalt bank failed on 11 May 1931. Profits plummeted and the industrialists looked to the state to suppress wage levels by disregarding union contracts, and to grant subsidies, tax exemptions and orders. Politicians like Brüning and von Papen who. together with von Schleicher had tended to represent the chemical and electrical goods industries rather than iron or steel, took some steps in this direction. Brüning's decrees reduced wages and "social expenditures”. He believed that he could allow the Nazis into power and manipulate them in accordance with the interests he represented. The owners of heavy industry were looking with increasing interest at Hitler’s party. Hitler’s accession to power was discussed between him and von Papen on 4 January 1933 at the home of a Cologne banker, von Schröder, who had connections with Rhenish-Westphalian heavy industry (Benoist-Mechin. Histoire de Varmee allentande, V.ll, 1938).

Some historians have understandably viewed the fifteen years of the Weimar Republic as merely a formal interlude between the militarised empire and the Third Reich. In the first year after the end of the First World War workers spontaneously set up democractic councils across Germany. In the absence of a clearly pronounced, majority rejection of all forms of capitalism and support for socialism, however. this situation did not last long. If the working class was going to continue producing wealth for their employers to market profitably, rather than for free distribution and use. a government of authority had to evolve to administer the resulting process of the accumulation of capital for a minority and of poverty for the rest. It was not long before the new, "social democratic" government was using the old. imperial troops, reorganised as “Freikorps", to shoot down any who felt that the government was not "social" or not “democratic” enough. Licbknecht and Luxemburg were clubbed to death by cavalry officers, on their way to prison.

At Versailles, crushing peace terms were forced on Germany. Hitler was later to use the reparations, enforced disarmament. territorial annexations and "war guilt" clause to support the "stab-in-the-back" legend, according to which liberal German politicians engineered the military defeat of the First World War as the foundation of their fifteen-year republic. The new German government in 1919, on the other hand, were so anxious to reassert their patriotism that they borrowed the language of socialism and made a public declaration that the settlement would condemn German workers to “wage slavery in the hands of foreign capitalism". The war had given rise to a number of new parties, and the parliamentary coalitions of the twenties mirrored the general instability which marked German capitalism throughout this period. The new republican constitution was steadily opposed by the military and judicial establishments, the civil service and the universities. The power of majority consent was clear while it lasted, however, as is demonstrated by the failure of the Kapp Putsch in March 1920. Military leaders had taken over the government offices, but strikes in gas, electricity and transport services helped to defeat the coup and uphold the Weimar Constitution.

Hitler and the NSDAP appealed to those who felt desperate at their social impotence. Rather than solving the problem by taking power democratically into their own hands, they were giving themselves an identity by fitting into a rigid hierarchical state, in which labour and capital would "work together" with the dictatorship as paternalistic arbiter, and in which any frustration could be taken out violently on a scapegoat chosen and legitimised by the state. In the thirties, with the terrible contradiction between twentieth-century technology and the waste and destruction of the First World War, the Wall Street Crash and mass unemployment, the defence of property became more brutal than ever, with Stalinist Russia as an Eastern reflection of the fascism of Central Europe. Fascism was not an alternative to capitalism; it was a way of running it when other approaches seemed bankrupt. In 1925. Hitler stated that his party would fight "against the Jew as a person, and against Marxism as a cause” (F. Carsten, The Rise of Fascism, page 123). In the desperate search for a scapegoat for the problems produced by the profit system, Jews were accused of being both impoverished communists and wealthy capitalists.

When Hitler campaigned as a nationalist against the Young Plan of reparations payments, he was joined by Hugenberg and his powerful Scherl publishing house. Some Ruhr industrialists, such as Kirdorf and Thyssen, began to make large contributions to Nazi Party funds. On 28 September 1930 in the Sunday Express, Hitler declared that the "socialism" of the Nazis "has nothing to do with Marxian Socialism. Marxism is anti-property; true socialism is not". Most of the Sturmabteilung private army of 300,000 were recruited from the young unemployed. The many young civil servants, office workers, farm labourers and others who flocked to the fascists in 1930 and 1931 out of fear of "godless communism" had little or no property to defend. They were suffering from generations of propaganda which teaches workers to defend our bosses' property and privilege, even though it is this very property and privilege which make us poor.

The regime which was set up in the thirties predictably based itself on the interests of the heavy industrial capitalists. The military was incorporated into the party. Finance capital was discriminated against for the sake of industrial capital. Marxism was attacked, so that the regime could claim to be neither “capitalist" (in the sense of favouring finance) nor "communist" (in the sense of favouring state capital). Both the finance and state sectors were labelled as “jewish” and incorporated into the universal scapegoat. State discipline was imposed in every sector of life. The Reichs Labour Front was used as an instrument for the control of labour. Unemployment reduced as the slump reached its bottom and armaments and other heavy industrial production was encouraged and picked up again. Real wages are said to have increased by 2.8 per cent a year on average from 1933 to 1939. but the working week was lengthened and the “national income*' was increasing at an annual average rate of 8.2 per cent (Fascism. ed. W. Laqueur. p. 425).

From looking at the specific social roots of Nazism in Germany, it becomes clear that this was a social phenomenon which, far from occurring by accident, was very firmly rooted in the conditions of the time. It is not a great step to realise that they are also in many ways the conditions of the time we are living in fifty years later. There are very many people who sincerely express horror at the vicious authoritarianism and anti-semitism of the Nazi regime, but are rather less ready to oppose the underlying social fabric from which it arose. Hitler used the Jews as a scapegoat for unemployment and poverty. This was not a freak accident of history. Workers were being thrown on the dole when their bosses did not find them profitable enough.

The socialist reponse to this problem is that wealth production should be organised democratically for direct, free use rather than for sale at a profit. But such a solution threatens the property of the powerful minority, who use their control of the means of communication in an effort to convince workers that the socialist solution is either unworkable or undesirable. Having swallowed this message, what was left? With six million on the dole, almost any easy remedy for such a problem would get a hearing. What was the central motivating force of Hitler's propaganda, apart from anti-semitism? It was his nationalism. He claimed to be able to stand for the united, national interest of all Germans, to be able to bind labour and capital together, and end social strife, despite the fact that these two social forces are in constant conflict, in Russia as much as in Germany. The cornerstone of fascism was nationalism. And yet, which modern Labour MP does not advocate a certain degree of nationalism, such as import controls or coming out of the EEC, all in good moderation, of course?

The lesson we must learn from what happened fifty hears ago, if we are serious about being responsible for avoiding its repetition, is that no such movement lives in a vacuum. It was the classical problems of the capitalist trade cycle, of inflation, financial crisis, the anarchy of competition and falling market demand which led to the mass unemployment on which Hitler rode to power. In the more long-term perspective. all social events of the last two hundred years have taken place within the framework of world capitalism, with its class division and profit motive. As such, this form of society must be held responsible for every war, every suicide and every dictator it has generated.
Clifford Slapper

Running Commentary: Retired unhurt (1983)

The Running Commentary column from the March 1983 issue of the Socialist Standard

Retired unhurt

Before he became a well-known television tyre salesman, Robert Mark worked as the chief of London’s police but he may not have enjoyed the job because he once described the Met as an organisation where corruption was routine. Under his rule there was a re-organisation in which some policemen found themselves moved to less sensitive work and others were persuaded to slip quietly out of the Force.

Then came the bible salesman. David McNee called himself Hammer because he claimed to have battered the criminals of Glasgow into submission. His success was not apparent to anyone who actually observed or experienced the agonies of that impoverished, violent city. McNee asserted that he hated crime through a stern religious conviction, which might have misled many people into believing that under his dour management corruption in the Met would wither and die along with improper police practices. The evidence shows that nothing of the sort happened. Most efforts at exposure continued to be frustrated in the traditional way, or succumbed through lack of official support.

So McNee left the Met in no better shape than when he arrived with his burning religious zeal. Even worse, there were important, unanswered questions about illegal police activities on the London streets; for example, the killing of Blair Peach, the riots in Brixton.

But somebody, somewhere — in fact quite a lot of them — thinks that the Hammer did a good job. Plainly he fits in well with ruling class requirements for filling important, sensitive jobs. First, he has retired on an index-linked pension of £22,000 a year. Then there is no lack of companies eager to employ him. Lord Matthews has taken him on as a non-executive director of Fleet Holdings; he has a similar post with the Clydesdale Bank paying him £5,000 a year and he gets £10,000 a year as a member of the board of British Airways.

This model of Christian rectitude, who was wont to discourse on the lack of moral restraint in society, has sold his memoirs to the busty Sunday Mirror whose gratitude extends to their paying him £120,000.

And in case anyone should doubt that all of this money-grubbing conforms to the unctuous moralising and denunciations of Christianity, McNee has taken yet another job. He is President of the National Bible Society of Scotland, to help teach the workers of that country to accept their depressed lot with meekness and gratitude.

Year of peace?

Having failed to cut London's fares because a judge said it was illegal to do so, Ken Livingstone’s GLC are turning their attention to rather wider issues.

In London, 1983 will be Peace Year — something which all Londoners will hope the other side remembers if World War III breaks out between now and December 31. Presumably to inform potential breakers of the peace, the GLC have invited several mayors from foreign cities. There will be peace conferences, peace concerts, peace community events.

Two defenceless and innocent shire horses will be named Peace and Friendship and will be in the Easter Parade in Regents Park. A statue (of a woman, of course; Golda Meir and Margaret Thatcher have proved how much more peace loving women are than men) has been erected in the garden near Red Ken’s County Hall.

What does all this mean, apart from a bit more publicity for Livingstone and his party? The “peace” movement, like all the other movements, exists under the delusion that demonstrations, festivals, dedications, have some effect on the problem they are concerned about.

In fact, in themselves such movements are ineffective — except that, by contributing to the maintenance of the very conditions which cause the problems, they can be said actually to worsen the situation. While peace movements and anti-nuclear demonstrators proliferate, the bald fact is that the weapons have got more dreadful and more widespread.

What really counts is the idea behind a demonstration. Marching, or sitting down, against the effects of the social system we live under does nothing to end that system. So it leaves the root of the problems untouched, to flourish and propagate.

The example of Livingstone’s Labour Party is typically illustrative. In power, they have always clearly stood for the production, and when it suited their purposes the use, of nuclear weapons. That fact is not wiped away by their organising this spurious event now.

A demonstration properly against war, or weapons, could take only one form; it would be a demonstration against the very social system which gives rise to them and it would extend a long, long way beyond the boundaries of any city.

No joke

For some reason obscured by time and the complexities of upper-class japes, Private Eye relentlessly calls him Lord Whelks. Upper-class japes are, of course, always relentless. In other circles he is known as the noble Lord Matthews who at his peak was boss of the mighty Trafalgar House empire which encompassed ships, hotels, property, newspapers.

Now Matthews has stepped down on the peak and will be devoting more time to one of the combines which made a part of Trafalgar — Fleet Holdings, which includes the Express newspapers. He also threatens to make more speeches in the House of Lords, where they may well be hoping he will not inflict on them the world famous Express style: "There may for all I know be no truth in the rumour that Princess Diana is really a buxom go-go dancer. But I think we ought to be told".

For Matthews is really torn between patriotism and profit and an occasional difficulty in reconciling them has given him much anguish. He it was who wanted to register Trafalgar’s ships under flags of convenience and crew them with foreign seamen. Only an embarrassing splurge of publicity. inciting protest from those who stubbornly live in the days of Victorian naval power, excluded the QEII from this arrangement. Matthews made no secret about his motivation — British seamen, because of their trade union organisation, were higher paid than those he could recruit abroad.

This was the argument he used again, when one of the Trafalgar companies put out for tender the rebuilding of the Atlantic Conveyor, the container ship lost to an Exocet at the Falklands. Matthews was clear that the contract should go to the yard promising the cheapest deal. Patriotism is for the likes of those who perished with the Atlantic Conveyor, always useful to persuade workers to act against their interests, not for hard-nosed businessmen with allegiance to the profit figures.

But Matthews is no figure of fun; he must be taken very, very seriously. Not one of the modern, enlightened, smoother breed of capitalists, he represents the authentic morality of private property society in which achievement is maximum exploitation and the only worthwhile human being is one who can be profitably put to use.